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Pitt Researcher Studies Preserving Thinking and Memory in Aging Brains


A new study published in Neurology, the online journal of the American Academy of Neurology, examined brain aging in 100 volunteers to determine the factors that help to preserve thinking and memory skills in aging brains. The study participants did not have dementia and were followed for 14 years, when they were an average of 92 years old. They underwent testing of their cognitive skills as well as imaging studies to see if amyloid-beta plaques were present in their brains. 

“With more people living into their 90s and even 100s, it’s increasingly important that we be able to understand and predict the factors that help people preserve their thinking skills as they age and determine if there are any changes people can make during their younger years that can improve their chances of cognitive resilience,” said study author Beth E. Snitz, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology, University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine.  The researchers found that people who had normal scores on the thinking and memory tests at the start of the study were less likely to develop later problems with their thinking abilities, even if they had amyloid plaques in their brains. 
                         
“This finding is consistent with the theory that people with better lifelong thinking and memory skills have a ‘cognitive reserve’ that provides a buffer of protection against changes in the brain,” Snitz said. Some modifiable lifestyle factors also played a role in successful brain aging. People who never smoked were more than 10 times more likely to maintain their thinking skills even with plaques than people who were smokers.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.



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